Monday, March 31, 2014

Today is the day I will break in.

This is my kind of Monday.  March hasn't been especially wonderful for us, but today?  Today makes up for a lot.

I did a lot of reading over the weekend.  One of the books I picked up was my 2014 Writer’s Market.  I happened to look over the cover more closely than before (everything other than the title is just marketing, after all) and noticed a familiar name.  It wasn't mine, but it was someone that I interact with on a regular basis.  At the Blackboard.  You know, the online screenwriting community that I talk about.

When I started this blog I was alone as a writer.  Almost immediately I met a few people in my social circles who also wrote – but I had no idea before because we all kept it secret.  When I started this blog I thought I would always be alone as a writer, even when my writing was no longer rejected.  But that isn't true.  The internet has changed writing from what it was in 1990 and we don't have to be hermits or communists.

I’m not alone.  You’re not alone.  Even better than that, our community is populated by professionals that are not only willing to help, but admit to their own doubts and excitements.

I’m sending story to Glimmer Train today.  Wish me luck.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Communism? That was just a red herring."

I spent far too long this morning trying get Microsoft Word to connect to Blogger.  It didn't work.  I should have known it wasn't going to work, I've tried it before.  But I had this idea that I could get it this time.  Foolish.

The internet was unable to provide a solution.  I get either the same basic steps as the Word instructions (which don't work) or clueless
people saying that Microsoft and Google are in cahoots to keep us down, man.

All of that research got me thinking again about the upcoming 1 year anniversary of Rejected and Alone.  I have been planning on making some changes, perhaps it is time to move to WordPress.  I picked Blogger because it seemed to be a little more user friendly and I wasn't sure what I was going to be using the blog for.  Now that I've been at it for a bit the limitations of the platform are much cleared.

I'm not talking about the Word problem.  Blogger is for casual blogging or Googlephiles.  WordPress is for putting your best face forward and establishing a professional internet presence.  It's also a bit more work.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Read My Lips

I'm working out the kinks with some new equipment this morning and have spent a good chunk of my ride trouble shooting rather than writing.  Enough of that.  I'm using a stop-gap and will press on.  Don't mind the bubblegum.

Read My Lips
by Jon Stark

It's hard to be 16 and in love.  We don't need to debate whether it's worse for boys or girls, but I will tell you that Scott thought the answer to be, most definitely, boys.  Specifically, boys who were in love with Lana.

She was everything he'd ever dreamed of except approachable.  Scott was a clever young man but he lacked courage and if there is one thing that love requires more than patience, kindness, or forgiveness, it's courage.

Lana sat one row over and two desks forward from him during three classes.  He could talk to her back.  He could write her notes (but never send them).  But when she turned to look at him all he had was a goofy grin and a need to use the bathroom.

At night, Scott would sit on his bed with Virgil and discuss the problem.  "It's like this, see?" said Scott sounding like a 1940's P.I.  "The dame's got legs and she knows how to use them."

"What's her angle?" asked Virgil.  Scott's lips barely moved when Virgil spoke.  He'd become much better in the last couple of years.  I should probably mention, at this point, that Virgil is a dummy.  His lips and limbs only move when Scott directs them.

"Do you think she'd like a picture show?" asked Scott.

"Ask her.  A smart gal like that won't take you for a drive around the block.  You'll know where you stand."  Virgil punched Scott in the arm.  "Sometimes you gotta get off the sidewalk."

Scott did get off the sidewalk, sort of.  He signed up for the PTA's talent show and worked very hard on a new routine.  I'd tell you all about it but ventriloquism is only funny when you watch it.  Let's just say his was the best act at a local PTA talent show and leave it at that.  Achmed has nothing to worry about.

An interesting thing happened after the show.  Lana came up to Scott and said, "That was really cool.  I didn't know you were so funny."  Scott smiled.

Then Virgil said, "He isn't funny.  I am.  I told all the jokes.  He's a palooka!"

Lana laughed.  Virgil kept going and all the while Scott's lips barely moved and Lana laughed.  He could talk to her, when he was Virgil.  So he went for it.  Asked her to the picture show.  And she said yes.

I would love to end the story here but I've still got a few stops left and I'm sure you're dying to know how the date went.  Virgil said it was amazing.  Lana had her arm around him the whole time and didn't care where he rested his head.  Scott, however, will tell you that it was awful.

The three of them met at the appointed time but when they approached the box office Lana turned to Scott and said, "The movie gets out at 3:40.  We'll see you then."  She plucked Virgil from his arm and marched inside.

Scott was speechless.  He watched as his girl went into the movies with some dummy while he was left alone on the sidewalk.  And he couldn't be sure, not completely, but he thought -- couldn't be -- but really it looked like... Virgil winked at him.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

"Some people are worth melting for."

I won the 5 minute fiction contest this week.  Thank you to those who voted.  If you haven’t tried it yet, you should.  It’s fun.

I’m working from my antique desk today instead of the train.  Tony Gilroy said that he now writes from anywhere but in the early days he would always long to be at his desk – but never could be.  It’s good to have a comfortable place but don’t let yourself get locked in.  I’m fortunate that my work requires me to write a lot in addition to the personal writing (like this blog) so I am often in different places with a deadline to meet and pages to write.  I think it is only through practice that we can become comfortable anywhere.

I also put my pants on the other leg first at least once a week just to fight the allure of routine.

To continue the theme of not following routine/everybody else, I’d like to express my disappointment with “Frozen.”  It broke sales records.  My daughter thinks it the greatest movie since “High School Musical” – should have been a clue, I suppose… -- and the interwebz are going gaga over the smashing success of a girl-protagonist film.

I was ready to be blown away.  I wasn’t.  There was nothing ground breaking in the animation so that didn’t carry it.   The music sounded just like every Disney TV show currently on Netflix so while it might have seemed special on its own  (“Little Mermaid” and “Lion King”) it now vanishes into the crowd.  We were left with just the story.

I’m all about strong protagonists and it doesn’t matter what sex, race, or creed they are.  A well written protagonist is compelling to watch.  The problem with Frozen was that it lacked depth.  The sisters were fine – except that we didn’t know who to root for.  It was suspense and mystery, it was “Who is the main character here?” followed almost immediately by, “Who is the villain?”

The pacing was also off.  Everything felt rushed – from the growing up of the girls to grand finale.  The stakes were raised but we didn’t care.  We hadn’t had time to care.  Then it was over.  Wrapped up like a present under the Christmas tree so neat and tidy that it must have been done by a machine.  It was the most contrived, unsatisfying ending of any Disney film I’ve ever seen.  And I’ve seen “The Rescuers Down Under.”

I know there is a huge fan base out there and I expect that they are all too young to remember “Beauty and the Beast” or “Pinocchio” or “Alladin.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Integrity check

I had an encouraging lunch yesterday with an old friend, my partner in 1789 Legacy, and the person who got me writing again last year.  (All the same person.)  During our meal we talked about quite a few things but the biggest boost for me came behind the scenes.  We talked about process and inspiration a bit and I credited my 2 hours/day on the train for my success to date.  She said, "It's more than the time.  You put the whole idea together and you must type very fast to get it all down."

I took it as a compliment not realizing that it was at work in my subconscious.  As I drifted off to sleep last night I had an epiphany.  Just because I'm not a "pro" doesn't mean that I can't have my own unique way of getting a story out.  I keep trying to find a system out there that works for me but what I should really be doing is writing and then shoring up the weak spots.  I've been stuck on "Falling Star" for weeks now, frustrated that I'm not writing pages because I'm trying to "break" the story.  I envisioned it whole.  I wrote it in a couple of days.  Now I know what's missing.   I need to write it again filling in the gaps.  Then I'll see what's missing again.

Sure, that may seem like brute force, but pages are how I build.  Not bullet points.  And I've gotten much, much better at cutting out darlings.  My most recent short story lost 40% of its initial word count for the 2nd draft and is much, much better for it.  I needed to write the rest to know who it was about.

A reader asked me this question:  "How can you tell if a politician has integrity?"  I turned to Washington for the answer.  Washington Orville Hampton, that is.

November 3, 1967.  Missoula, MT

I inspected Bullock's ranch today and have to say, it is a marvelous spread of just under a thousand acres.  He has quite a collection of characters working it too.  We played Canasta in the bunkhouse at the end of the night and I was regaled with stories that even my dearest friend Bunyan wouldn't believe.

Lest you get the wrong idea, they were not a group of liars.  Indeed, there were learned men about as well discussing science and philosophy and politics.  Having recently spent time with the Governor I was quite interested in their discussion about political ethics and inquired as to how one could tell if a politician was honest.

"It's easy." said Brandt.  "You rap them upside the head."  We chuckled but he pressed on.  "I'm serious.  You hit them a solid whump and listen to the sound it makes.  If it rings hollow than you know they're alright.  If it sounds solid then you know they're full of bull-"

Olaf cut him off.  "You're crazy.  Empty sounding is good?"

"Just like a watermelon." said Joshua.  "I should have thought of that."

And so should I.  How often have we heard Father Algernon say that watermelons are the very definition of integrity?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"That's something only people like you do."

I read "Pan's Labyrinth" yesterday.  (I haven't watched the film.)  Before reading the script I had wanted to see it.  Now I'm thinking, nahh.

It was terribly depressing, had bits and pieces of fairy stories, and felt like a rip-off of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" which isn't really fair because the author is Spanish, it is his history, and anything serious set around the Spanish Revolution will compare to FWTBT.  I think my issue was that there were too many character with parts that weren't big enough to make them memorable.  There was also quite a bit of sudden -- and extreme -- cursing which completely didn't fit with the dialogue.  I'm wondering if it is a story that has to steep and my opinion will change next week.

I don't mean to take away from the accomplishment of film, this is clearly a case of the script only hinting at the true story -- a feat often possible only when the author is also the director.  It was a wildly successful film and there are plenty of people who enjoyed it.

The only chap I met who saw it and liked it was from Manchester, England.  We were taking a class together when it came out and several folks had seen it and nobody else (all Yanks) liked it.  I guess it just lacked the gravity to draw in American audiences.

Come on, that was funny.

Monday, March 24, 2014

"There's no place like home."

We went to a "Home and Garden Expo" this weekend.  I think the Expo idea is about as brilliant as bottled water.  You make people drive to a place where they have to pay to get in to be subjected to high-pressure sales pitch after high-pressure sales pitch.  $5 face painting?  Are you kidding me?

The neat thing about this expo was all of the possibilities.  It made me look at my existing home and consider the impact that changes might have -- a new bathroom, a gas fireplace insert, a shed, a patio kitchen.  I thought about them.  Imagined them.  The budget won't let me do everything, but maybe there is something I should do.

Then I started thinking about writing.  A good story has been to an "Expo" where the author has walked about and looked at the possibilities for changing things around --  a new heat pump or water garden.  He looks at how the story would change if things were restructured.  He doesn’t try to put them all in, and maybe nothing changes, but the leisurely stroll down aisles of vendors opens him to possibilities that he wasn't aware of before.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

"Our daughter is famous, Helen. You're the only person who doesn't know it."

It’s sort of like Christmas Eve right now – not a creature stirring.  Actually, I think that’s the only way it’s like Christmas Eve.  There’s no tree inside of the house, no decorations, no wrapped packages.  Today is just a typical “first Saturday of Spring.”  Of course it isn’t completely devoid of expectation – I’ve got two boys who are waiting to find out which baseball teams they are going to be on.
Anyone else "Pottering" about the garden today?
Today got here just like every other “first Saturday of Spring” and I expect that if I’m patient, there will be a next “first Saturday of Spring.”  I can’t have them all at once.  I can’t get a “first Saturday of Spring” in December.  I have to wait.  I have to go through each day to get there.  Once it’s finally come I am free to enjoy it – which I shall – but then I’ll have to work my way through to the next one.  No shortcuts.  No easy way forward, or back.

This “first Saturday of Spring” I’m writing (before everyone is up and I start in on the yard).  I expect I will be writing next year too.  Putting in the time, practicing, waiting, working – and with thousands more pages under my belt. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Welcome to Finder's Keep

I was pondering what to write about today, playing with a few ideas that just weren't begging to be told, when I got the sudden idea -- "What if Thomas Magnum lived at Downton Abbey?"

"What, indeed?" said the Dowager Countess.  "Another American?  Next thing they'll take up drinking tea and making a musician their King."

Welcome to Finder's Keep
by Jon Stark
(remember, this a writing exercise…)

"Watson!"  Mr. Carson Higgins's voice bellowed across the yard.

"I'm right here." said Thomas Watson, standing up from where he had been stretching near the terrace.  "What do you want this early in the morning?"

"Early?" demanded Higgins, "It's after staff luncheon.  But never mind that.  There's a Lady here to see you.  She's waiting in the library."

"A Lady in waiting, is it?"

"You should put a shirt on." said Higgins.  He returned to the house, a masterpiece of stone, brick, and wood that had stood its ground for three hundred years.  Inside there had been updates, but in the typical English way, everything was subservient to the house itself.

TW wiped the sweat from his upper torso and face with a towel, tossed it casually over a garden chair, and pulled on sweater.  He was quite curious about who this waiting woman was and headed straight for the library.

Lady Regina Brighton stood with her back to the door, presumably admiring one of the many priceless antiques that the Lord of the house kept on display.  Thomas cleared his throat.  "Good morning, Reggie."

She spun, startled, and then quickly recovered.  "It's Lady Brighton now."  Her voice was cool, even inside a drafty British mansion.

"You look good."  TW was lost for a moment.  It had been just over three years since he had seen her in Rhode Island.  Providence had brought them together, and it appeared, or at least he hoped, that it was doing so again.

It wasn't.  "I'm serious, Watson.  There will be none of that."

Carson Higgins entered the room with a tray of tea.  "How do you take it, my Lady?"

TW snorted.  "You drink tea now?"

"2 with milk.  Thank you, Mr. Higgins."  He beamed at her and quickly made up the cup.

"Me too.  I'll take 2 with milk, Mr. Higgins."  TW was flippant, mocking them both.

"Must I remind you in the presence of our guest that the staff does not serve the staff?" said Higgins.  Reggie raised her eyebrow.

"Staff?" said TW.  "I'm a guest just like she is."

Carson looked at TW, then at the Lady Brighton.  "I don't believe I see any resemblance at all."

Reggie laughed and it was just like the old laugh, the old Reggie.

"What brings you to Finder's Keep?" said TW.

The laughter stopped.  "One of my maids is pregnant.  She said it was a boy from the village but I don't believe her."

TW motioned to a chair and sat opposite.  "Because you've seen something?"

Reggie nodded.  "I think so.  And there are things I haven't seen too.  Like boys from the village that fit the bill, or ever show up at the manor, or have stepped up to claim the girl."  Reggie paused for a sip of tea.  "She's quite a nice girl.  I expect a local chap would be proud to wed her.  Especially with her employed at the big house."

TW considered a moment.  "So you think it was Lord Brighton and want me to find out the truth."

"It sounds so awful when you say it aloud." said Reggie.

He leaned forward and took her hand his.  "It is awful.  Will your husband be traveling in the near future?"

"He's planning a business trip to Edinburgh on Wednesday.  I expect him back Friday next."

"Alright.  Invite me to dinner tomorrow.  I want to see him interact with the staff."  He looked at Reggie until she looked back.  "And you."

"That's simple enough.  I'll tell Carson on the way out." she said.

TW laughed.  "That won't be necessary.  The old bugger's been listening to the whole conversation.  He's put on 100 pounds in the last six months and can't see much of anything, but his hearing is still A+.  Isn't that right, Mr. Higgins?"

TW winked at Reggie.  She stood.  "I'll see you tomorrow."  He walked her to the door.  "You know, it is good to see you Thomas."

Reggie's visit was very upsetting to Tom.  He had really liked her back in the States and he didn't much care for the idea that her husband was tired of her.  He was too preoccupied to notice Carson Higgins slip up behind him.

"Will that be white tie or black?"

TW jumped and spun around.  "Higgins!  Don't sneak up on me like that.  And black, I think."

"Very good, sir.  I'll try to see if I can make out the difference, what with my failing eyesight."  Higgins walked off, stiffly and proud with a $3 smile lighting his path.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"That's a debt I'll never be able to repay."

There is something promising about a warmer day -- with sunshine, a big moon, and lots of fog -- on the first day of spring.  I'm certainly ready for winter to be over.  The older I get the less I enjoy it.  I like there to be sunshine when I'm not in the office.

Today's tales from the script -- I'm going to have to change the name, turns out there's already an entire blog by that name which predates my "spontaneous creation" of said same -- but today I'm going to look at "Catching Fire", the hugely successful sequel to "The Hunger Games."

There will be high level spoilers, but nothing you can't figure out on your own anyway if you saw the first film and understand Hollywood.  Gee, that was cynical for the first day of spring.

"Catching Fire" was a good movie, but...  I have great confidence that the book will be much, much better.  I plan to read it when I finish with the Robert Crais novel consuming my attention.  The reason I believe this is because there were a lot of suggestions of deeper story in the film accompanied by a sense of rushing.  Not exciting rushing, more like being at a staff meeting with a lot of agenda items that need to be checked off so we can go to lunch already.

I really felt like I had just watched the same movie again, but not quite as good.  A remake rather than a sequel.  It was fun, but totally lacked the greatness of THG.  Part of that is sequelitis, obviously.  The world had been created so of course we saw the same goofy clothes, same squalor, same train and forest, etc.  But the other part was that it had the same plot points.  Like it had the same plot points.

I did learn a valuable lesson about pacing.  We watched it in the living room as a family and as a family we had to pause it several times for everything from restroom breaks to getting more chips.  Each time the movie was paused I stopped to think about what I'd been watching and then made a prediction about what was going to happen.  The end result was that the film seemed obvious to me.  There's nothing inherently wrong with being obvious if you're telling a good story, but if the audience gets there before you do it ruins the experience.  I was surprised that such a big budget, award winning film could be so close to the line.

Then my ego took over and I decided it was because, as a brilliant storyteller myself, the best plot line was obvious to me even as it remained occluded from the bourgeois.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Washington goes to San Francisco

This is awkward.  I'm not in my usual seat.  Or even close to my usual seat.  For some reason the train is especially crowded this morning.  I'm now on the East side facing North which is the total opposite of how it should be.  My elbow keeps hitting the side of the car.  I feel like I need to iron something.

Let me see what Washington Orville Hampton has to say about the need for same.

June 11, 2006 -- San Francisco, CA

I've had about enough of SF for this trip.  I remember when this was a respectable town.  This afternoon, however, was horrible.  I was dropped very unceremoniously at the front door of the wrong hotel.  Inside I discovered that the desk manager had been murdered and instead of getting a hotel room, I got an interview room.  Apparently people of diminutive stature are considered prime suspects when someone twice their height has an ice pick through the ear.

I complained, of course, about the ridiculousness of the whole thing but Detective Randy suggested that was my alibi.  I asked what his alibi was and he said he didn't have one.  That really threw him off and a Captain by the name of Stottlemeyer came in from the next room and took him out.

Then I got to meet a charming young woman, Natalie, and her boss, Mr. "oh-my-goodness-can-anyone-really-be-so-annoying?"  She called him Mr. Monk.  He spent the next half hour interviewing me.  Which was to say that he puttered around the room getting everything situated just-so before sitting down across from me.  Then he leaped back up and wiped everything down with a tissue.  It was mesmerizing in the same way as watching snails melt when you put salt on them.

Then Mr. Monk, without asking a single question, said, "He's not the guy."  The Captain didn't like that answer and argued.  Mr. Monk said, "He's not the guy.  Look at his bags.  He wasn't even supposed to be at that hotel."  The Captain said, "Right, he's told us it was a mistake."  Mr. Monk smiled and said, "It wasn't a mistake, Captain."  I, of course, was furious.  It was absolutely a mistake.  Coming to San Francisco was a mistake.  Miss Natalie said, "Mr. Monk, get to the point."

Mr. Monk tried to straighten my bow tie and I'm embarrassed to say that I tried to bite him.  I'd have punched him if I was handcuffed to the table.  He backed off at once and said, "Mr. Hampton didn't plan to go to the hotel, but his taxi driver took him there on purpose."

The Captain clapped his hands.  "Of course.  It was a set up."  The Captain turned back to me and said, "What can you tell us about the driver?"  I shook my hands to remind them I was cuffed.  Then I coughed to remind them I was thirsty.  Then I said, "Boy am I hungry" so they'd know I was hungry.  Then I told them all about my wild ride in the cab and the stories that the driver, Jame Gumb, had told me on the way.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

I think the word you're searching for is "Space Ranger"

How many tricks does your pony have?  One?  Two?  Infinity?  My wife an I played a game with our children as they were growing up about who loved who more.  They usually ended at infinity times infinity to the infinity power.  (And Mrs. Hooper said I'd never use imaginary numbers...)  That's how many tricks your pony needs if you want to stay with something creative -- job, hobby, whatever.

Okay, so infinity times infinity to the infinity power isn't actually an imaginary number -- just a silly number -- but the point is still important.  A one trick pony won't get you very far.  Maybe that's enough for you but somehow I don't think so.  I think settling for one trick is subtle way to quit.

Speaking of one trick, the only imaginary number I can remember from 9th grade is "the negative radical."  "You can write it," said Mrs. Hooper, "But you can't ever get to it."  Maybe for a mathematician.  But I'm an author with the power to create reality.  I can take you to infinity... and beyond.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Snowpatrick's Day.

I still remember the year when I discovered I was more Irish than anything else.  Hasn’t changed my view of St. Patrick’s Day.  What has changed my view is the snow.  Around here they’re calling it Snowpatrick’s Day.  Clever?  Maybe.  I’m not sure yet.  My friends and I are still making fun of Snowmageddon.

One thing I will say about Snowpatrick’s Day is that it is inspiring.  Someone thought of something that was a wee bit clever and was willing to risk everything by putting it out there.  That’s the sort of risk that any artist must take.  Not quite sure where I’m going yet?  I’ll make it easy.

If someone can be confident enough to put out something like Snowpatrick’s Day, my writing will definitely find a home.

Friday, March 14, 2014

As the Crow Flies

If you are what you eat, than you write what you read.  I've been reading pulp detective fiction and Glimmertrain Stories.  I have to say that I am very impressed with Glimmer Train.  I will have to bring up my game if I want to play in that league.  There's a reason they are at the top of the heap.

I struggle with Friday fiction now because I’m pushing out a first draft.  It’s not what my finished products look like anymore.  Sort of like how my piano lessons went the weeks I actually practiced instead of just showing up.  I’ve reconciled this problem somewhat by using the feedback on the story as a litmus for determining if I should keep it in the “make better” folder or the “this is where I was then” folder.

As the Crow Flies
by Jon Stark
March, 2014; 1500 words

                April 27, 1978.  Dallas, TX.  Randy Turner was killed in a single vehicle accident during the early morning hours.  Police say that they are unsure why his car left the highway.  He leaves behind a wife and an eight year-old daughter.  Mr. Turner was the third fatality in five years along this stretch of highway and some of the local citizens...

                The rest doesn't matter.  My father died out there and he got three lines.  Or he would have, if anyone had cared to write about it.  Mom says he made big money working for big oil.  After he died we found out that he also spent big money and accrued big debt.  Enough that we lost the house with the pool, the other car, and the country club membership.

                We landed in Lubbock.  If you've never been to West Texas I'll explain it to you.  It's like standing on giant piece of sandpaper that's so big you can't see any of the edges.  When the sun comes up the wind starts and it blows all day without stopping.  Hard and hot, a blow-dryer that never switches off until the sun goes down.  And the world gets cold.

                Lubbock was the opposite of Dallas.  There were no tall buildings, no new buildings, no energy and bustle.  We lived in one of the squat, run-down apartment buildings.  It was two boxes set on top of each other with a central courtyard.  It might have been a hotel once.  There was no pool, no a/c, and no other kids.  Dream summer vacation.

                My second morning there I met Joe.  He had on coveralls that said, "Joe" and carried a toolbox.  I followed him.  He stopped at the vending machines but instead of reaching for money, he set down his tool box and went to work.  I crept closer.

                He unlocked the machine, released a couple of magical catches and...  I heard angels singing.  Truly.  The door of the vending machine swung open and a blinding light shown forth and before me stretched the promised land of Milkyway and Almond Joy.

                Joe turned and smiled at me.  "Hello, young lady."  I waved, suddenly shy.  "Ever see the inside of one of these?"  I shook my head.  "Do you want something while I've got it open?"  His smile made me smile and candy, before lunch.  I couldn't say no.  I didn't want to.

                "You look like a Reeces girl." he said.  I nodded and accepted the offered candy.  He took a Hershey bar and then set to work.  He removed the side panel, banged on some things, took out a part that looked part mechanical grapefruit and part grenade.  Joe frowned.  "I have to go back to my van to get a new one of these."

                He looked into my eyes.  Very serious.  "Can you watch the machine while I'm gone to make sure that nobody takes anything?"  It was a big responsibility.  I hadn't had much of that in my life.  I thought I could do it and told him so.  "Okay.  I'll be right back."

                He wasn't right back.  It took him about three years while I stood there looking at all of the candy, no quarter required.  "Did anybody come while I was gone?" he asked.

                After the candy machine I helped him with the soda machine.  I had a Crush and he drank Hire’s rootbeer.  "I've got to run over to the place on Durango.  You wanna come?"  I know what you're thinking.  I wouldn't have let my daughter go and I'd never go myself now, but the world was different then and we didn't know how dangerous it was.  Not really.

                Joe's van was like a clubhouse.  The seats were hot vinyl and cracked, dust and empty fast-food bags were everywhere, and the back was full of tools and junk.  I loved it immediately.  He even had an 8-track.

                That night Mom told me she'd gotten a job at Rick's and so I didn't have to worry anymore.  She asked what I'd been up to while she was out.  I told her about meeting Joe.

                The next day I found Joe loading up his van.  "Off to San Angelo today." he said.

                "What's it like down there?"

                "It's like here but not as big." he said.  "And there's a river runs through it.  Concho."

                "Sounds cool."

                He opened the passenger door and stepped aside.  "You're welcome to ride with me, if you like."  He actually seemed shy.  "I'm not sure how good of a company I'd be but it might beat hanging around here."  He hadn't finished before I was in the seat.  Perched in our club house, ready for the highway.

                Joe had a nice smile.

                It was a long drive through the flat desert to get down to San Angelo.  We listened to music and watched for armadillos.  We saw so many that it stopped being fun.  Joe suggested that we look for armadillos that hadn't been hit by cars yet.  That kept us busy.

                San Angelo looked just like Lubbock to me.  We fixed the machines at three Texaco stations, the Red Roof Inn, and on the third floor of the Ramada.  He bought me tacos for lunch and we parked by the river.

                "I could watch the river all day." he said.

                "It's like watching the road." I said.  "It just sort of twists along."

                We got back to the apartment building just as my mom was walking in from work.  I hopped out of the van and waved to Joe.  "Where are we going tomorrow?"  He just smiled and waved back.  Then he waved to my mother and she waved back.

                "We went to San Angelo today." I told her.  "Joe bought me tacos."

                My mother frowned.  "He didn't have to do that."

                "What else would I have eaten?"

                Later that night I came out of my room and found her crying.  She was balled up on the couch like a dirty shirt and shook uncontrollably.  I put my arms around her and eventually she uncurled, wiped her eyes, and smiled at me.  "Sometimes I miss him so much." she said.

                "I don't." I said.  "Why should we?"

                "Don't talk about your Father like that." she said.

                "We had to leave Dallas because of him."  I was angrier than I thought and it came out hard and cold.

                "Gina Mae Turner!"  I thought she was going to slap me.  "Your father was a good man.  He never hurt us and don't you ever forget it."

                I looked around at our apartment.  It was nothing like our life before.  How could she say that he hadn't hurt us?  I was too young to know what she meant.

                Later, when I was riding with Joe, I told him about how Mom missed my father.

                "I think she loved him very much." said Joe.

                "I don't.  I hate him."

                Joe shook his head.  "No little girl should hate her father."  I started to argue but he shook his head.  "You should listen to your momma."

                Mom brought home a television one night.  It wasn't very big but she was exhausted from carrying it.  I didn't appreciate it.  Our TV in Dallas had been twice as big and color.  But my attitude didn't spoil her excitement and I still watched it with her.

                The next time I rode with Joe he noticed that I had changed my hair.  I noticed that he was strong enough to move the entire vending machine, even full of candy and cokes, all by himself.

                On our next trip to San Angelo I asked him if he'd ever been in love before.  He never took his eyes of the road.  "I've never been there." he said.  "Been all around there, up and down the road so to speak, but, well..."

                "Do you think you'd ever want to go there?" I asked.

                He grinned at me.  "The brochure sure looks nice."  Then he became serious again.  But I'm not sure I'll get the chance."

                "I think you will.  It's me I'm worried about." I said.  "Nobody's ever kissed me.  I don't think anybody ever will."

                He laughed out loud then.  "A pretty thing like you worried about getting kissed?  Your momma's gonna be fighting them off in a couple years."  He swerved around a dead armadillo.  "You're sweet as the candy in those vending machines.  You'll never be alone."

                “Sure would be nice to be kissed though.” I said.  Hinting with a sledge hammer.  I thought he was slow on the uptake back then.  But he was a good man, was all.

                We drove all summer in his van -- our clubhouse -- and I saw a lot of West Texas.  Every day was a winding road to somewhere.  Every day Joe brought me a little bit further out of my grief.  I didn't know it at the time, but that was one of the best summers of my life.  I learned to love my mother.  I learned that it's not about getting what you want but wanting what you've got.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"No. It's the same as it ever was. The weak get taken."

Spring suffered a terrible setback last night.  I'm hoping this is the dramatic part of the fight, where it looks to Adrian and all the world like Rocky is going to lose but then he pulls out all of the stops and in a slow motion dance accompanied by a stirring rock ballad, he punches his way through blood and sweat and defeat into the final page's happy ending.

Wait a minute – Rocky lost.  That’s a terrible analogy.

Speaking of terrible, I caught another episode of "The Walking Dead."  It wasn't hard, they're zombies and they don't move very fast.  In this case, neither does the story and I'm sorry, I know there are a lot of people who absolutely love the show, but I just don't get it.

Go For a Walk Instead.
I mean, I get the show.  It's about survivors after the Zeds show up.  What I don't get is why so many people are in love with it.  I have to go to enough staff meetings that watching a bunch of aimless, brain eating creatures wander around doing nothing isn't entertaining to me.  (No offense boss, if you're reading this.  You're meetings are more like Fire Fly.)

The root of the problem for me is that I don't find zombies fun.  I don't like zombie movies.  (Except Shaun of the Dead.)  I don't play zombie video games.  (Except Plants vs. Zombies (but not the sequel, that one isn't as much fun.))  I don't read zombie books.  Or comic books.  I wonder how many people who are so infatuated with Zombies feel the way they do because of their friends, or the inertia of our culture.  That would be ironic, if they are fans because they want to stay hip, they embrace it as cool because they've been told it is.

Give me an alien invasion, an ancient nuclear winter, or even a computer taking over everything. Those are stories that bring out humanity, hope, a sense of purpose.  Zombies are just about falling to our own hunger - one by one.  You can't have a positive message in something about the zed.  Every fight is against someone who was human.  We are the enemy.  Depressing.

So I watched Arrested Development afterward to cleanse my palette.  Oh those silly Bluth boys.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Where did it go?

This was not a smooth morning.  Topping it all off was the first technical glitch I've had while working on this blog -- my post was vaporized.  Gone.  No record in drafts, sent, inbox, anything.

Washington Hampton will be back next week.  Of course, I suppose it's just as possible that the same thing will keep happening.  But that's the defeatest attitude and since I'm a writer I can't afford that.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Who are you writing for?

John Steinbeck gave us 6 "rules" for writing.  I've read them several times in different places but there's a difference between knowing something and knowing it.  Yesterday I read them again.  I can't remember all six.  In fact, I can only remember 1.  Probably because I've heard variations on the other 5 so many times that it all sort of runs together.

That rule I remember?  Forget about your audience.  It doesn't exist.  Reading is a solitary action and everyone has a different experience.  So pick one person and write for that person.   Just that person.

I've got a short story going that was struggling from trying to sound literary.  How silly.  It needs to sound like me telling a story to someone.  Someone specific.

Steven King wrote about this in his book -- I have a tickling memory that he actually quoted Steinbeck -- and added the concept of "first reader."  You don't have to write for your first reader, but you need to write for one person.  Even if that person isn't someone you know, or someone who is even alive.  It will keep your story focused.

I remember another of his rules -- always say your dialogue aloud -- but I'd forgotten because I've always done that.  I hope you have too.

Monday, March 10, 2014

"All right, R.J. I'm going back to sleep."

When my boat is put away for the winter I go into a sort of hibernation.  It sits there, under the covers and wrap and blue tarp, hiding between a really big tree and a very small garage, and waits with the patience of an old hound at his master's feet.

There's so much work involved in getting it ready for the winter and in the proper place that I don't feel like taking it out again for a bit.  Then it gets cold and dark and my thoughts turn to turkey instead of fish.  Then it stays cold and dark and instead of tubing on the river, I want to go to Mexico or St. Lucia.

It's a good way to pass the few short months of winter.  After winter there's spring and like any good hibernator, with spring's arrival I wake up.  The period of rest was great, but now it's time to get started again.  I get ansy.  I get excited.  I'm tempted to drag my family to the various boat shows that pop up, just to walk some decks.

I'll spend a month, or a month and a half, waiting for the weather to stabilize, planning the summer season, picking the trips and reserving at least a few weekends.  I'll be pouring over Chapman's, refreshing my memory about proper handling and right-of-way.  I may even wear a life-jacket in my garage.

Last spring I woke up and wrote a movie.  This spring I'm writing #4.  Winter's over.  Get out of bed and do something.

Friday, March 7, 2014


It's day 2 of the new station.  I continue to struggle wrapping my brain around the concept of leaving later to catch an earlier train.  Remarkable.  I also remembered not to get off at the usual stop last night.  Something that is probably even more remarkable.

I received a rejection letter for "Last Writer Standing" almost immediately after posting about not having heard anything for ages on anything earlier this week.  As soon as I start to doubt that no news is good news...

Let's see where today's story takes us, shall we?

by Jon Stark

"Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father..."  (Paul to Timothy, a couple thousand years ago.)

                Conrad was not especially pleased with his father although the old man certainly seemed pleased enough with himself.  He had that glow.  In school we called it the "high-pro glow" but I didn't go to school with Conrad.

                The current disagreement centered around the totalitarian policies of a certain middle manager where Conrad was employed.  "You can't tell him anything, no matter how wrong he is." said Conrad.  "He's completely inflexible."

                "Is he?" wondered the father.

                "Most definitely.  There's nothing more stubborn than an old man.  He totally doesn't get it."

                The father let the absent-minded insult slip past.  "Are you sure it's the old man who is inflexible?"  That captured Conrad's attention.  "I would suggest that an old man has changed far more deeply -- and often -- than the younger."

                To his credit, Conrad did not start laughing at once.  He let it settle.  He waited to see if his father was serious.  "An old man open to change?"

                "A young man open to change?" countered the father.  "You're as set in your ways as any geezer.  And more intolerant."

                "How can you say that?"

                The father looked at his hands.  The wrinkles.  The spots.  The scars.  He turned his gaze to the window.  "Do you see those trees?"  Conrad did.  "They are old."


                "So a man cannot become old unless he is like those trees." said the father.  "Bending at the force of the wind, and changing with the seasons."

                The father cut him short.  "I'm not saying that an old man is not stubborn, or reluctant to change simply for the sake of change.  But if you speak to him he will hear you."

                "I don't know." said Conrad.

                "He will.  The trick is to listen when his experience answers you."